Although I am posting this entry to my blog, my wife, Ann VanderMeer, contributed significantly to the content and wording. See also the previous posts Anthologies: Comments, Anthologies from a Reader’s POV, and Anthologies from a Writer’s POV. – JeffV
Editing original anthologies in the twenty-first century has become much more than a process by which you skillfully put 10 to 25 stories between two slabs of pulped wood and glue it all together. I think you can chart the beginning of the changes from the 1970s, a time when, if you look at many of the anthologies being published, they didnâ€™t so much pitch readers on the names of authors as on themes or a series or editorâ€™s brand. But at some point, this wonderfully ego-less approach went away, and over time the creation of an anthology, especially at the commercial publisher level, became more name-driven, and thus a little more like a Hollywood pitch.
That said, acquiring a core of well-known/best-selling writers for your anthology project most definitely isnâ€™t â€œselling outâ€â€”those authors are in that position because theyâ€™re professionals who have produced great fiction for either a general or strong niche audience for a number of years. They are known for bringing a particular style or approach, and a certain level of quality, to whatever they do. Invites to these writers should be based on genuine affection for and appreciation of their work, along with knowing theyâ€™re right for a particular project.
However, this part of the process also shouldnâ€™t devolve into a reflexive seeking out of the same core group for each anthology. There is an impulse—quite normal and understandable—on the part of agents and editors to want the same handful of names as the Holy Grail for an anthology. In actual fact, though, those particular writers only contribute to a tiny percentage of anthologies each year—and Fantasy & Science Fiction is actually wide and deep enough for other names to have impact as well. (itâ€™s worth noting that Indie press anthologies are not immune from needing established writers, either—sometimes it is even more important given the vagaries of distribution and getting the word out.)
Within this paradigm, there should still be plenty of room for inviting less commercial writers and newer writers to participate in your anthology. Indeed, we would argue that as an editor you have a responsibility to the health not only of your anthology but of the SF/Fantasy community (or whatever genre youâ€™re working in) to encourage submissions from newer writers. It is becoming increasingly clear, too, that, a narrowness in reading tastes can be an active liability, given an increasingly omnivorous readership.
The advantage of experience does often result in greater consistency from an established writer. However, it is not true that established writers will automatically produce better work. One of the unfortunate byproducts of the otherwise often wonderful S/F subculture (or any subculture, really) is a fixation on personalities and types that sometimes obscures the actual work and supports an unspoken assumption that X, Y, and Z are â€œhotâ€ and therefore more talented than A, B, and C. An editorâ€™s ability to at times ignore the shiny-shiny and the hype that lubricates the genre community is essential to producing quality anthologies.